The first time you wear a new pair of nice shoes, you’re almost afraid to let anyone near them. For probably the only time in those shoes’ history, they will be pristine.
The original laces will have zero gunk embedded into the fabric, dirt that is impossible to get out without simply burning them. The tongues won’t have any creases in them. The insoles will smell like insoles instead of your sweaty, disgusting soles. The color of the shoes is white; not because you washed them with your sister’s toothbrush, not because you put them in the dishwasher with leftover spaghetti containers, not because you meticulously put whiteout on every little spot of deep space on your kicks. When you first buy them, the color of your white shoes is white because the color is white, and that’s it.
So now you’ve saved money for the shoes, went down to the store and tried on the shoes, bought the shoes, took the shoes home, found just the right fit to wear with the shoes, and just the right party to wear the shoes to for the first time, and you finally make the decision to wear the shoes out in public and to break the bond between ‘pristine’ and ‘pre-owned’ and your first thought is...
“Damn, these shoes hurt.”
When you first buy something, shoes as an example, it may be shiny, clean, advanced, and modern, but it is not yours. You own it, you have the receipt, you can wear it or ride it or eat it and put it on Instagram if you want to, but there’s no way to fast-forward through the experience of owning something, eating something, or living in something. It’s only the experience of living in it that makes it ‘yours’ in the truest sense of ownership.
If you want to showcase your pristine shoes as ‘pristine shoes’ then you have no choice in what to do after you buy them: case ‘em up like the 40-year-old Virgin does with ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ action figures and store ‘em somewhere that nobody will ever see ‘em again.
But if you want to own and show off a great pair of shoes, then you must wear them. You must get them dirty. You must gunk the laces. And you must, above all else, get through however-many steps you need to walk in them before you’ve worn in your shoes and made them yours. Truly yours. So that not only could nobody else ever have the same ‘feel’ that you feel when you wear them, but nobody would ever want to.
Nobody else wants to smell the sweat in section 231 of your Vans.
Nobody else wants to get a close inspection on the end zone view of your Jordans.
Nobody else is interested in walking a mile in your Clarks.
It takes time to make your mark on anything you own, including anything that you create yourself. You have to have a plan to own it, you have to execute that plan, you have to debut it, and then there’s going to be a waiting period before you truly settle in with your purchase and say, “This isn’t just a pair of shoes that I own; this is my pair of shoes.”
Keep that in mind when the Los Angeles Rams host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Championship because the first time the Rams ever wore SoFi Stadium to a dope ass party...was less than five months ago.
The Chicago Bears have been playing in Soldier Field since 1924 and even if there have been plenty of renovations over the years I’m going to tell you right now from my own experience there: some shoes need to be thrown out. Not given to charity, not taken to Goodwill, but burned and buried in the woods out in Newark.
Meanwhile, 21 of the NFL’s 30 stadiums are at least 20 years old. The Cardinals, Colts, Cowboys, and Giants/Jets got new homes between 2006 and 2010.
This weekend’s visiting 49ers moved from Candlestick Park in 2013 (when they went 12-4 and reached the NFC Championship) to Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium in 2014 (when they went 8-8 and fired Jim Harbaugh after going 4-4 at home, including a 13-10 loss to the Rams) and it took five years for San Francisco to right its ship.
The Vikings moved into U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016 and the Falcons moved to Mercedes-Benz in 2017, both experiencing significant dropoffs in success from the previous seasons.
Then after several delays, the Rams and Chargers began play at SoFi Stadium in 2020 and the Las Vegas Raiders started playing football games at Allegiant Stadium that same year. But nobody was watching from the stands except maybe Kevin Demoff or the winner of a contest giveaway. The Rams, Chargers, and Raiders all had such unique experiences last season, not just because they weren’t in front of fans—few teams were—but because they didn’t even know to what degree they had fans in their respective cities.
All three had relocated and all three were forced to play in an unusual conditions after they did. All three had to delay wearing their new shoes for an entire year. All they could do was case the shoes, 3D render “What it might look like if someone did wear the shoes”, and put the shoes on TV and the internet for shoe fans to watch from at home.
And knowing that it does take a while to get people even interested in your shoes.
The Rams hosted the Bears on September 12, 2021, and a full house of 70,445 people were marked as being in attendance. But nobody will ever be able to answer the question of how many of them were Rams fans. It may be that the first season, if not the first few seasons, at SoFi Stadium will not be packed with the home team’s fans like many other stadiums are; I don’t see anything wrong with this. I don’t see a reason for it to be a dig against the Rams.
To me, this is only one thing: a logical outcome.
The Rams spent nearly 50 years in Los Angeles after leaving Cleveland as the NFL Champions and before moving to St. Louis to soon become Super Bowl champions. But the Venn diagram that connects “People who watched Norm Van Brocklin and know who Jane Russell is” and “People who attend home games for the 2021 L.A. Rams” may not be more than a sliver of existence.
Tons—and I mean tons—of the Rams fans who currently stomp for them on social media (which is a rapidly increasing figure thanks to the recent successes of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp) were not watching pro football in 1995, when the team began play in St. Louis. I was barely watching pro football in 1995, and I am nowhere near “Gen Z”.
Then when the Rams finally did return to Los Angeles, most of us expected that experience to take time to develop. Not only because the Rams were playing their home games in Southern California again, but it would also necessitate the team was good, interesting, and that a global pandemic wouldn’t happen.
Two out of three ain’t bad.
On Twitter, the L.A. Rams account has gone from 500,000 followers in August, 2017 to 960,000 followers in August of 2021, to over 1,033,000 as of today.
The Rams’ YouTube channel, which had fewer than 10,000 subscribers two years ago, is nearing 70,000 today. A recent video showcasing 10s of thousands of Rams fans packing SoFi for the wild card game against the Arizona Cardinals already has 127,000 views.
And thanks to the acquisition of Matthew Stafford in 2021, the number of Rams fans in Greater Michigan has increased over the last 12 months on top of that. Stan Kroenke’s vision for the move to Los Angeles has always been much greater and more global than simply “Los Angeles” and that will undoubtedly make the experience at SoFi Stadium different than most other homes—in the same way that the Raiders moved to Las Vegas in part because people expect those games to become premier “away” vacations for fans of the other team.
But trust me, more and more Rams fans are coming.
As someone who does live in Los Angeles, I can tell you that from my personal experiences it hasn’t been necessarily ‘common’ to see Rams fans around the city on a day-to-day basis. I would say the same for the Chargers but I’m holding off on commenting on that situation until I see my first Chargers fan in Los Angeles.
However, over the last few months, and especially the last few weeks, I get more and more people asking me, “How do I get into the Rams?” “What can you tell me about the Rams?” “Who are the best players?” and “Will they win the Super Bowl?”
To that last question my answer has been the same since the Stafford trade: “Yeah, they might.”
Now they are one win away from not only getting to the Super Bowl, but getting there in the same year that over 100,000,000 people around the world will have their eyeballs on SoFi Stadium; their shiny, brand new, pristine pair of shoes.
And God Damn if it won’t be sweetest to see the Rams wearing them instead of the 49ers.
If Niners fans travel well and make it more difficult for the Rams offense to do their jobs, as they did in Week 18, then so be it. After all, the 49ers started 0-4 at Levi’s Stadium this season, not necessarily inducing a ton of confidence that there’s a “homefield advantage” in Santa Clara yet either. San Francisco is only in the NFC Championship at all because they are 8-3 on the road this season, including playoffs.
If the Rams have to treat Sunday like an away game because of gold and red zits on a face painted blue and yellow, then that’s just what they’ll have to do: the Los Angeles Rams are only in the NFC Championship at all because they are 8-2 on the road this season, including last weekend’s 30-27 win over a Tom Brady team that had been 8-1 at home prior to the divisional round.
The entire idea of anyone having a “homefield advantage” this weekend between the Rams and 49ers is predicated on a belief that the home team always has an advantage. San Francisco’s fans want you to think that treating this like a Niners home game will result in an advantage despite the fact that the San Francisco 49ers don’t even play in San Francisco and aren’t especially dominant in Santa Clara.
The Rams are going to rely more on their talent and ability to play football than needing to win bragging rights for who has the greatest advantage in the stands instead of on the field. The fans will come—I’ve personally witnessed a number of people only start their allegiance to the Rams in the last year and I assure you many more are coming—and winning on Sunday will surely expedite the process.
You can’t wear in your shoes in a day. It takes time, patience, and a good feeling. I have a good feeling that the Rams are going to be looking at SoFi Stadium like their most trusted pair of kicks in the closet for a long time to come, always at the ready to bust out their sister’s toothbrush to keep them shining brightly for everyone to see.